Tuesday, December 19, 2006
Palo Alto commits to an eco-friendly plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Reducing sprawl, and reducing monster mansions in the hillsides, will be a helpful step in fighting global warming.
Farm produce buyers link wildlife restoration to contamination fears, despite a lack of evidence. The E-coli problems are unlikely to trace back to wildlife. Hopefully these concerns will be managed appropriately.
Your cell phone can ring you with the call of the wild. Our endangered local animal, the California red-legged frog, can be your ring tone available for free at a conservation website.
And a brief update about this blog: spammers are trying to post unrelated comments selling products on this blog, so we've disabled the comments feature. We're very interested in hearing your (real) comments though - send them to brian at greenfoothills.org or holly at greenfoothills.org.
Thursday, December 14, 2006
I think there's a good chance that this will go forward and eliminate some future developer's effort to put suburbs on hillsides. Something starting with a last-minute suggestion.
Thursday, December 7, 2006
December 6, 2006
Rob Eastwood, Senior Planner
Re: Comments on
The Committee for Green Foothills submits the following comments on the Castro Valley Ranch Subdivision DEIR.
Missing analysis of growth-inducing impacts within the project.
The DEIR as currently written provides insufficient basis for the County to decide whether to approve the subdivision. The elephant in the room, but not in this DEIR, is that the 16 lot subdivision and road construction will induce the growth of future subdivisions. The less-than one full page discussion of growth inducing impacts of the project (DEIR pg. 154) entirely fails to disclose this impact. It says “Any future development on the project site would be governed by the land use policies and densities of development prescribed in the County General Plan, which is not proposed to change. These land use policies will limit the number of lots that can be created by subdivision each year and the minimum lot size.” The issue, however, is that the paved and extended road, together with lot line adjustments that facilitate future access and future subdivisions across the entire property, induce the possible growth in the form of new future subdivisions that could not occur without the newly configured parcels and new road infrastructure. It is the change to Castro Ranch created by this project that induces growth, the change that many groups are clearly worried about, and that effect is overlooked in the one chance for it to be analyzed.
The DEIR not only fails to disclose the growth inducing impacts, it fails to adequately describe the impacts of how much future subdivision can occur on Castro Ranch because of the new road and lot line changes. The failure to do a slope-density analysis, combined with the failure to indicate how future subdivision cannot feasibly occur without the road extension, means the scope of the impact has not been described.
These issues are the primary, but not exclusive, impacts from the proposed project. The “what’s next” issue is the shoe that we all are waiting and expecting will drop at Castro Ranch. A willful decision to ignore this concern that everyone acknowledges as existing is not only wrong but also a failure to comply with CEQA’s requirement to disclose growth-inducing impacts. For these and other reasons the DEIR as written cannot serve as a basis for the County’s decision over this project.
Other impacts and comments:
Contrary to the discussion on page 154 saying the project won’t provide access to any surrounding areas that lack access, it will provide alternative and improved access to properties served by Whitehurst Road, giving those properties a means to access Highway 101 (by agreement with Castro Ranch landowners) while avoiding Highway 152 traffic. A separate growth inducing impact will be from providing secondary emergency access for
Because the lot line adjustment is treated as a subdivision, approval of this project is equivalent to improving a tentative map, or a parcel map for which a tentative map was not required. Government Code section 66474(e) states such approval is impermissible if the design of the subdivision or the proposed improvements are likely to cause substantial environmental damage or substantially and avoidably injure fish or wildlife or their habitat. The on-site and off-site growth-inducing impacts are likely to cause such impacts.
The DEIR raises several hydrology concerns (DEIR pg 52-55). It fails to analyze potential increases in impervious surfaces from residential development at
Please contact us if you have any questions.
Brian A. Schmidt
(sent via email)
I would like to add the following comments to Committee for Green Foothills’ previously-submitted comments:
First, as with other
Second, without a conservation easement granted to an appropriate agency prohibiting use of the road by persons attempting to get access from
Third, the DEIR failed to analyze threats that increased tree harvesting would occur as a result of splitting the property up for estate purposes, or from improved road access. Such harvest would be an indirect impact effecting species habitat and hydrology.
Please contact me if you have any questions.
Monday, December 4, 2006
Commercial Timber Harvesting and Fire Hazards at Camp Jones Gulch
The NTMP (Nonindustrial Timber Management Plan) for Camp Jones Gulch proposes commercial logging in perpetuity. Up to 40% of the trees 18 inches and diameter will be harvested every 15-20 years. Old-growth redwood and Douglas fir trees in two groves are not proposed for logging, unless they are determined to be “hazards”. However, cutting of up to 20% of the second-growth trees within these areas is allowed by the Plan. The Plan can be amended in the future, without public comment.
Commercial Timber Harvesting will increase fire hazards
Redwood forests are dependent upon the cool, foggy coastal climate in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Mature redwood and Douglas fir trees create a canopy of continuous shade that discourages fire-prone shrubs, trees and other sun-preferring vegetation from growing. Summer fog drip replenishes water in the creeks, and maintains moist conditions that keep fire hazards low. In San Mateo County, up to half of the annual precipitation recorded in redwood forests comes from summer fog drip.
Cutting of the largest trees in a commercial timber harvest opens up the tree canopy and exposes the forest floor to direct sunlight. The resulting hotter, drier conditions on the forest floor increase the fire hazard. Logging debris and slash (tree branches, tops, and brush) from cutting of timber, up to two feet deep, is left on the forest floor, adding to the fire hazard. Increased sunlight encourages the growth of weedy and fire-prone species such as tan oak, California lilac (ceanothus), and broom. These fast growing shrubs and trees become “ladder fuels” which enable a fire to spread up into the canopy of the forest. As the forest recovers and the tree canopy grows back, the sun-preferring weedy species become shaded out and eventually die, adding to the fire hazard.
An additional hazard associated with the Camp Jones Gulch NTMP is the proposed use of herbicides on tan oaks. Tan oaks are not considered desirable in a commercially managed forest. They invade recently logged areas, and will re-sprout vigorously if cut. The NTMP proposes to use a method called “hack and squirt” in which herbicides are squirted into a cut in each tree trunk, killing the tree. However, unlike many other species, the leaves on dead tan oaks do not fall off. The leafy dead standing trees become virtual torches - one of the “ladder fuels” that the YMCA is concerned about.
Note: In its review of a 1976 Timber Harvest Plan for the Jones Gulch property, California Division of Forestry stated that the fire hazard will be increased for a period of 4 to 5 years rather than 1 or two years as the YMCA had predicted. In fact, the hazard is much greater than that due to the abundance of brushy shrubs and trees growing back after each timber harvest cycle. Yet, one of the YMCA’s stated purposes of this NTMP is to reduce fire hazards.
There are alternatives to Commercial Timber Harvesting
The YMCA should adopt and implement a strategic fire plan. This would include control of vegetation along Pescadero Creek Road, and the Camps’s ingress/egress road. Within 100 feet of the buildings in the developed area of the Camp, the YMCA should maintain 100 feet of defensible space required by State law. Within the next 200 feet, and other strategic locations such as ridge tops, the Camp should implement shaded fuel breaks. There are funding sources to assist landowners with fuel reduction, and there are potential partner organizations to implement fuel reduction programs.
-Lennie Roberts, Legislative Advocate
Monday, November 27, 2006
According to the article, the backers are now focusing on prohibiting eminent domain for private projects, rather than trying to block new environmental protections. If true, the new measure would be less relevant to CGF's work, but we'd have to look at the details to be certain.
Wednesday, November 15, 2006
The Board followed the course of action that Committee for Green Foothills and many of you recommended. Thanks so much for sending your comments to Board members over the past two days. It made a difference. In addition to adopting Resolution #4, the Board followed CGF's other recommendation and directed that all non-LCP Amendments (namely, those that do not require Coastal Commission certification) be implemented right away. This means that the lot merger program, the formation of a flooding and drainage committee and release of the Midcoast Groundwater Study will not be delayed.
The LCP Update is not yet finished but we reached a milestone today.
Thanks again for staying with this process over the past seven years and speaking out -- clearly, eloquently and often -- in support of our Coast. While we did not prevail on all of the issues, we have ensured the adoption of stronger, more protective policies in many areas. Please continue to communicate, motivate and participate!
April Vargas, Board of Directors
Monday, November 13, 2006
Committee for Green Foothills Comments on
Midcoast LCP Update Project
County Counsel Memo November 14, 2006
County Counsel has identified four alternative forms of the resolution submitting the proposed changes to the County’s Local Coastal Program (LCP) to the California Coastal Commission.
Committee for Green Foothills supports Resolution No. 4 (Separate Amendments, Modification Possible) for the following reasons:
* Resolution Nos. 1 and 2 would involve an “all or nothing” approach to certification of the LCP Amendments. The entire package would either be certified or denied. While it is likely that most of the proposed LCP Amendments will be certified by the Coastal Commission, some may not. It would not be in the county’s best interest to risk a denial of the entire LCP amendment package if this is the case.
* Resolution No. 3 would allow the Commission to certify each Amendment separately, which would not risk denial of the entire package. However, the Commission would be precluded from suggesting modifications. Assuming the county would want to revise the Amendment so it could be certified, it would be helpful to know what modifications would meet the Coastal Act requirements.
* Resolution No. 4 allows the separate certification of Amendments that meet the requirements of the Coastal Act, and gives the County the additional benefit of the Commission’s suggestions for modifications. The County does not have to adopt those suggested modifications, and can always suggest other revisions, or provide additional background information that supports the County’s Amendment as originally submitted. Resolution No 4 allows for a process of give and take, and collaboration between the county and the Coastal Commission which reflects the partnership between our local government and the Coastal Commission).
Resolution No. 4 provides the most flexible approach to the certification process and will honor the extensive, seven-year public process that produced the set of Amendments to be certified. Hundreds of county residents, numerous staff members, the Planning Commission and your Board have all devoted countless hours in good faith efforts to draft essential changes to our Local Coastal Plan. These revisions have been crafted to address current conditions within the Midcoast area. Underlying this whole process is the requirement that these revisions meet the standards of Chapter Three of the Coastal Act. Resolution 4 provides the most effective method for meeting these requirements and we urge the Board to adopt it.
We also encourage the Board to adopt modifications that will allow the Non-LCP items to become effective immediately. County staff has proposed a comprehensive and balanced process for implementation of the substandard lot merger program and there is no reason to delay on this or any of the other Non-LCP items.
Monday, November 6, 2006
I’m sure you’ve already received many reminders to get out and vote in tomorrow’s election. I can’t remember a time when there are more measures on the ballot with the potential to impact the things we care about most: open space, park lands, clean air and water. The biggest concern now is that a low voter turnout could make the difference between winning and losing some of these crucial measures. Please take the time to vote tomorrow, your vote does make a difference! We wanted to remind you of the endorsements the Committee for Green Foothills’ board of directors has made this election season:
* Yes on State Proposition 84, the parks bond measure that provides funding for open space and parkland acquisition, watershed restoration, water quality, fish and wildlife habitat, and flood control.
* No on State Proposition 90, the “eminent domain reform bill” which is the most far reaching measure on the ballot with the potential to stop all environmental protection measures. If passed it would effectively abolish the passage and enforcement of basic laws that protect the environment.
* Yes on San Mateo County Measure A to fund our parks “for the future” with a small 1/8 cent sales tax increase, money that could be used in city and county parks for anything from acquisition to maintenance to park programming.
* Yes on Santa Clara County Measure A to protect against sprawl paving over our hillsides and agricultural lands.
Three local ballot measures in
* Oppose Measure J, in
* Oppose Measure B in
* Oppose Measure L in
Many thanks for speaking up for open space!
Friday, November 3, 2006
October 30, 2006
Re: Need for an accurate update of the Draft Fiscal Analysis
Dear Members of the CVSP Task Force:
The Committee for Green Foothills submitted several comments about the Draft Fiscal Analysis for
As you recall, the Draft assumes house prices and that are the basis for residential taxes will increase 3% over and above inflation every year for over 50 years, while assuming that costs of providing services will grow much more slowly. We already can see this is wrong in the short term – 2006 prices have not increased at the rate the analysis expected, and there is no reason for 2007 to be different. If the revised Draft does not update the house price information, it will begin analysis with information already known to be incorrect. Even in the nearly-impossible event that the long-term expectations of the Draft are correct for every year after 2007, the current price correction should lower housing revenue projections by around 5%. That should be reflected in the consultant analysis.
Furthermore, there is likely to be a significant time gap between the revised analysis and final City Council consideration of
As you may also recall, the Committee for Green Foothills did not consider the Draft’s revenue projections to be credible. New information over the last six months reinforces the idea that housing prices cannot forever increase faster than income, the underpinning of the Draft’s rosy scenario. We hope this problem will be addressed in the revision.
Please contact us if you have any questions.
Brian A. Schmidt
Tuesday, October 31, 2006
A man stopped me on the sidewalk.
"What's that sign about?"
"It's supporting Measure A in Santa Clara County, which protects rural areas outside of cities by limiting the amount of new development that can happen there."
He paused a moment.
"That's a good thing to do. They shouldn't be putting lots of houses up in the hills."
It's a pretty straightforward message - I just wish we had a chance to have a similar conversation with every voter in the County.
Thursday, October 26, 2006
October 24, 2006
Re: Sunnyvale General Plan Policies that support taking an official position endorsing Measure A, the Land Conservation Initiative
Dear Members of the City Council;
We understand that you have already heard a great deal about Measure A, the Land Conservation Initiative, enough to convince six council members to endorse it individually. Rather than repeat the many reasons why Measure A is a good idea, we wish to address the recommendation by City staff to not take a position on the Measure.
Staff does not make this recommendation based on whether Measure A is a good or bad idea, but rather on the assertion “Generally, staff only recommends a position on a ballot measure if there is an existing City policy on the issue or significant impact on the City.”
In fact, multiple General Plan policies address the issue, and protecting the City from Los Angeles-style sprawl is a significant beneficial impact on the City.
A cursory review of Sunnyvale General Plan policies shows several relevant provisions:
Policy Goal R1: “PROTECT AND SUSTAIN A HIGH QUALITY OF LIFE IN
Policy Goal R1 references specific goals and action statements that clearly apply to Measure A:
Policy R1.1 Advocate the City’s interests to regional agencies that make land use and transportation system decisions that affect
Policy R1.2 Support coordinated regional transportation system planning and improvements.
Policy R1.3 Promote integrated and coordinated local land use and transportation planning.
R1.3.1 Participate in intergovernmental activities related to regional and sub-regional land use and transportation planning in order to advance the City’s interests.
R1.3.2 Promote shorter commute trips and ease congestion by advocating that all communities provide housing and employment opportunities.
R1.3.3 Monitor significant land use and transportation decisions pending in other communities to ensure that
Because Measure A stops sprawl that could adversely affect
Other City policies also apply:
Policy 3.1A.1c. Support legislation which would enhance the availability of adequate water from
Water conservation 3.1B.2d. Coordinate planning with local, state and federal agencies.
And policies on creek protection:
Surface Runoff Sub-Element
Goals and Policies
Protect Beneficial Uses of Creeks and
Goal 3.4A. Assure the reasonable protection of beneficial uses of creeks and
Policy 3.4A.2 Comply with regulatory requirements and participate in processes which may result in modifications to regulatory requirements.
3.4A.2c. Review proposed changes in regulatory requirements and comment as appropriate.
Measure A protects water quality and water quantity.
For all these reasons, and the general beneficial impact Measure A will have on County land use that is crucial for keeping Sunnyvale part of an area that does not resemble Southern California, we urge the City to endorse Measure A.
Please contact us if you have any questions.
Brian A. Schmidt
Tuesday, October 24, 2006
To see what they're planning, go to their website.
Thursday, October 12, 2006
What struck me was how even the Farm Bureau stated they oppose Proposition 90, something CGF also opposes. In retrospect, it makes sense - Prop. 90 will likely block "Right to Farm" ordinances if it passes.
Proposition 90 is an under-the-radar disaster that has very little to do with the eminent domain issue it pretends to be about. The concern is that people won't see the trap, and will pass it. We certainly hope that won't happen.
Tuesday, October 10, 2006
The stated reason to build
Coyote Valleyis to bring needed jobs to San Josewhile providing some housing for people employed in . Currently the Bay Area has massive office vacancies, so there is no demand for new office construction. However, if all the office space planned for development there were actually built, there wouldn’t be enough housing. Developing new office space this far south of the city central just serves to exacerbate sprawl south through Coyote Valley Gilroy, San BenitoCounty and the Central Valley.
Now to get that understanding through to the decision-makers....
Monday, October 9, 2006
CGF has a long history of working on San Francisco Bay protection issues, most recently concerning Bayfront Park in San Mateo County. It's great that Bay protection will get the attention it deserves, and kudos to the Water District for making that possible.
Thursday, September 28, 2006
This was a great, and totally unexpected, gift.
Wednesday, September 20, 2006
A local television report on the Measure A campaign.
House prices increased 1.6% in Santa Clara County last year, which is a decrease when inflation is considered. San Jose's fiscal analysis for Coyote Valley depends on prices increasing 3% above inflation consistently, and a shortfall at the beginning can significantly increase projected "temporary" deficits.
Direct-to-consumers sale of meat by ranchers is a new idea gaining ground. None of the ranches mentioned are in Santa Clara County, but there's no reason why our County shouldn't be involved.
An article describes increasing interest in incorporating San Martin to stop inappropriate development between Gilroy and Morgan Hill. This seems like a good idea in a lot of ways, although we have to watch for pitfalls too.
Monday, September 18, 2006
(We provided similar comments to San Jose for its policies, here.)
September 18, 2006
Ms. Neelima Palacherla
Re: LAFCo Agricultural Mitigation Policy
Dear Ms. Palacherla;
The Committee for Green Foothills submits the following comments regarding the proposed LAFCo Agricultural Mitigation Policy:
· CEQA and good policy require the highest feasible level of agriculture preservation be achieved when annexation results in the loss of farmland. CEQA requires the imposition of feasible mitigation measures that substantially lessen adverse impacts. Public Resources Code sections 21081(a)(1); 21081(a)(3). While preserving farmland does partially mitigate for the loss, a 1:1 ratio clearly does not eliminate the significant impact, as the net effect is a 50% loss of farmland. Accordingly, LAFCo staff should review policies at other LAFCos and at the least, it should adopt the highest ratio of preserved-to-lost farmland currently in use.
· Even if LAFCo determines that preserving an amount of land equal to the amount of lost farmland is adequate, a 1:1 ratio is inadequate because it assumes the program will work perfectly. In the real world, mitigations are not perfect, programs and easements are often not followed or violated, or simply become infeasible. Wetland restoration mitigations frequently use 2:1 or 3:1 ratios or higher to account for the possibility of failure. A 20% addition to the preservation ratio (a 1.2:1 ratio) would provide some assurance that an equal amount of land will be preserved, and should form the lowest preservation ratio considered by LAFCo.
· LAFCo must retain as a feature of the ag mitigation policy that it has the legal ability to enforce the ag mitigation requirements. Staff’s proposal for conditional approval of an annexation, with mitigation preceding issuance of a Certificate of Completion, satisfies this requirement. Any alternative proposal that modifies this in a way that removes LAFCo enforcement ability will turn this whole process into a sham exercise. It is incumbent upon anyone proposing an alternative to show how staff can feasibly enforce mitigation requirements.
· Extending the conditional approval period to longer than two years may be an appropriate method to merge LAFCo enforcement ability with timelines that landowners may need to arrange mitigation. An expedited renewal process may also help resolve problems where landowners may not be able to meet deadlines. Tracking these projects over time will require additional LAFCo resources however, and fees should be imposed for purposes of cost recovery.
· Complaints that the staff proposal conflicts with long-term planning for city expansion are invalid. In the first place, annexations that provide space for land that the cities will not use for decades are already disallowed. Cities remain free to develop expansion plans that project decades in the future – however, any annexation proposal might have to be a subsidiary component of the city’s plan, and could only be considered when it is timely. This is the current policy, and the ag mitigation proposal is not a change in kind. If
· Mitigation stacking should be at least discouraged; some kinds of mitigation stacking should never be allowed and it could be appropriate to prohibit stacking entirely. Illusory mitigation, such as would occur by selling Transferable Development Rights on land already covered by conservation easements, should be prohibited. Similarly, stacking any subsequent mitigation easement on land already protected by an easement that achieves much the same goal is illusory and should be prohibited. Stacking easements for biological purposes and for agricultural preservation on the same property could result in conflicting mandates and should be discouraged or prohibited.
· All mitigation funding, including maintenance and enforcement, is the responsibility of the annexation applicants (cities and landowners). Applicants cannot pay less than their full share on the basis that they expect to apply for funding from agencies such as open space authorities. Agency funding to augment the ag mitigation project is a separate discretionary decision that does not reduce the obligations of those converting farmland to other uses.
· While LAFCo does not have authority over County actions that convert farmland to other uses without changing jurisdictional boundaries, it should encourage the County to adopt ag mitigation programs similar to the LAFCo proposal.
· There should be some maximum time limit between collection of in-lieu fees by a conservation entity and land acquisition, at least in cases where in-lieu fees are large enough to finance acquisition in short order.
· Land acquisition must occur within
· Acquisition programs should prefer, including giving a price preference, purchasing easements on farms not already physically developed in ways that constrain future types of farming. Permanent greenhouse structures (ones with paved floors) and mushroom-growing buildings are examples of problematic development if they are the dominant use on parcels being considered. Easements that prohibit hardscaping the property over a certain percentage level would be appropriate.
· The buffer concept needs further development. We suggest that buffers may also be farmed in some circumstances, but in ways that minimize potential conflicts with neighbors – maximizing production and profits would not be the first priority. Organic farming, growing hay, and limited working hours would be examples of buffer management that could be appropriate. Because the buffer could not emphasize agriculture and might have to switch to other uses entirely, it should not count as part of the land preserved for agriculture.
· Efforts to exclude lands from designation as “prime agriculture” should be opposed. Staff proposed policies #5 and #8 should not be weakened by efforts to use loopholes such as capping wells and claiming the lack of water means the land is not prime, or removing “prime” designation by landowners simply leaving land fallow for several years.
Staff’s LAFCo policies represent a strong step forward to protecting our County’s heritage. The shame is that this was not done in previous decades. The sprawl now found in the north County could have been a “Silicon Archipelago” of high tech development and housing surrounded by farmland. At least, we can avoid repeating mistaken sprawl in our remaining prime agricultural lands.
Please contact us if you have any questions.
Brian A. Schmidt
Friday, September 1, 2006
Wednesday, August 30, 2006
CGF asked for even stronger protections which were not granted, but developers' efforts to weaken the protections also were rejected. Overall, I would describe this both as a significant improvement and a first victory for the Measure A campaign, the Land Conservation Initiative.
Relatively few opponents of the County viewshed proposal tried to kill it, but rather most of them only sought to weaken it. If we had not been bringing our Measure A, there's little doubt that the realtors and developers would have tried to kill viewshed protection entirely. Because they had to act "reasonably", our Measure A campaign defused a great deal of potential opposition to the County's action yesterday.
Our comment letter is reposted below.
August 25, 2006
Re: Agenda Item #66, Viewshed Protection
The Committee for Green Foothills continues its ongoing support for improvements to
The Committee generally supports County staff’s viewshed protection proposal. We support the proposal both on its own merit and as something that complements the more general protection we hope to achieve through the Land Conservation Initiative on the fall ballot. We note that Initiative opponents have stated they also support the viewshed process and proposal, and we hope they will not seek to remove the most important portions of the viewshed proposal.
Rather than remove vital parts of the proposal, the Committee seeks to see it strengthened. In particular, we suggest the following:
· House size levels for design review should be better adjusted to reflect the problems that monster mansions pose for viewshed protection. As proposed, a 4,900 square-foot structure would not get Tier 2 review and no incentive in the rules to reduce its size. The 12,500 square-foot limit for Tier 3 is similarly too high to create a significant disincentive. We suggest the transition from Tier 1 to Tier 2 occur at 4,000 square feet, and from Tier 2 to Tier 3 occur at 10,000 square feet.
We understand that staff based the Tier 2 transition on the current typical house of 5,000 square feet in the hillsides, but if the goal is to fix an existing problem, some incentive should be given for people to choose less massive housing. Similarly, the problem of a “monster mansion” arises at a much smaller level than 12,500 square feet, and the tiering system should address that problem through appropriate incentives, including transitioning to Tier 3 at 10,000 square feet.
· The alternative proposals for ridgeline development, General Plan Policies RGD31a through 33a, should be adopted. These proposals achieve what the Board of Supervisors want – get development off of ridgelines unless no other choice presents itself, while protecting private property rights. We strongly encourage the Board to adopt these proposals and direct staff to prepare the appropriate zoning ordinances.
In addition, the Committee recommends that the 18-24 month review period include considering improvements to the proposal that would protect the viewshed for County residents who are not located in the County valley floor. These people also have the right to quality views. In particular, the review should consider the following:
· Extending viewshed protection to areas heavily used by many County residents – Highway 280, Highway 152, Highway 17, and parts of selected County parks.
· Improving lighting control ordinances to decrease light pollution and improve access to night sky views, something the County could do in conjunction with city jurisdictions.
· Review air quality protections to reduce haze in the County.
We applaud the County’s efforts, and look forward to protecting viewsheds. Please contact us with any questions.
Brian A. Schmidt
Friday, August 25, 2006
Dear Santa Clara Valley Water District Board Members:
The Committee for Green Foothills urges the District to provide sponsorship support for the public television program, “Saving the Bay”. We believe this program will advance the District’s goals of environmental protection through education, and sponsorship will also give appropriate visibility to the District.
The Committee is also familiar with “Saving the Bay” producer Ron Blatman’s work on other projects, and we expect he will again do an exceptional job. We encourage the District to help bring this program to the viewing public.
Please contact us with any questions.
Committee for Green Foothills
Monday, August 21, 2006
Wednesday, August 16, 2006
The National Association of Realtors just released its national report on the housing market, and we can check San Jose's assumptions against what is actually happening. San Jose expected housing to increase 3% above inflation, so with inflation at 4%-5%, San Jose is counting on a 7%-8% increase in housing prices. The Excel spreadsheets at the Realtors' site show 0.4% increase for single family homes in the greater San Jose area, and 4% for condos in the San Francisco area.
San Jose's estimates are already off by 5% or more, according to these figures. More importantly, they demonstrate the flaw in San Jose's method of projecting unsustainable trends as something that will last forever.
UPDATE, 8/17: Figures from a different source for all of Santa Clara County show a 7% rise, which just barely keeps up with San Jose's projections (although the decline in sales volume may indicate problems). There's a difference in geographic area and time period, but the range betweeen 0.4% and 7% is so large that I suspect something is wrong with at least one of these estimates.
Wednesday, August 2, 2006
On June 5th of this year, a four-thousand gallon mixture of volatile and semi-volatile organic compounds exploded inside a tanker truck at the East Palo Alto Romic toxic waste facilities, and subsequently escaped from the tanker into the air (the press release avoided the word “exploded” and said “reacted chemically” instead). A mist spread over the Bay Road complex, nearby homes, and the immediately adjacent Bayland marshes before coating the ground, leaving buildings, roads, and wetland plants covered in a residue of sticky black dots. Immediately following the spill, nearby residents were warned to stay inside their homes pending a further investigation into the cause and severity of the spill. Following the incident, the Environmental Protection Agency released a report outlining their initial findings regarding the nature of the spill, and what steps they were taking to ensure the safety of the nearby citizens and wildlife.
The report claims “the release of the VOCs had no effect on nearby neighborhoods or residents due to the fact that the chemicals dissipated so quickly into the air”, and that the sticky, black residue left on the road and plants “is not likely to be harmful unless one comes into direct contact with the material”. Any long term effect on the marshland was unknown at the time of the report, but biologists were expected to release results within the end of the week. (week of June 12th).
Nearly eight weeks later, the overall impact that the chemical spill had on surrounding East Palo Alto neighborhoods and marshlands is still largely a mystery. The EPA states that the tanker was carrying semi-volatile and volatile compounds, however according to Greg Baker of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration there is still no definitive list of every compound in the tanker at the time of the spill. According to Baker, the biologists’ primary focus has been determining where the released spray passed over and if any damages to plant or animal life occurred. Back in June biologists explored the marshes looking for any signs of impact such as dead fish or birds, and used an imaging fly-over technique to get aerial views of the affected marshlands, and determine to what degree the area had been affected. Biologists could find no signs of environmental distress or a lack of photosynthetic activity. In August a second round of fly-over imaging will be used to see if any previously undetected impacts arise.
This incident is not the first time Romic has threatened the health and safety of residents and the marshland. In 1995 Romic mistakenly released cyanide into the Palo Alto Wastewater Treatment Plant, and in 2005 Romic paid the state of California $849,500 to settle 53 safety violations, accumulated over the last 7 years.
Romic’s presence has caught the attention of the East Palo Alto activist group Youth United for Community Action or YUCA. Over the last few years YUCA has worked to raise awareness of the harmful effect Romic has on the community. Roger Madrid, a co-member of the group believes that Romic has no place in his community, “they handle chemicals that are known to cause cancer and asthma” and “we want them to leave”.
It is troubling that while the EPA has released a statement assuring the community that the people, plants, and animals within the vicinity of the Romic spill were not harmed, it is still unknown what was in the tanker that spilled. Furthermore, EPA has not addressed the possibility of long term effects that the released chemicals could have on the community and wildlife. The Romic toxic facility has a controversial history, located in an economically disadvantaged, ethnic minority community while receiving, storing, and processing toxic waste generated elsewhere. The facility’s presence immediately next to the Baylands raises both environmental concerns and community economic development concerns for why the facility should occupy a prominent Bayfront property. These concerns are longstanding, and Committee for Green Foothills will continue to monitor the natural resource protection issues that result in this area.
Thursday, July 20, 2006
The Supreme Court decision is here.
Tuesday, July 18, 2006
Friday, July 14, 2006
-- Holly Van Houten, Executive Director
As the former director of the Bay Area Ridge Trail Council, it was my great pleasure to attend Wednesday’s night of the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District where a trail connecting Los Trancos Open Space Preserve to Palo Alto’s Foothills Park was approved. Together with the trail opened last fall linking Foothills Park to the Pearson – Arastradero Park, this new connection will create a significant piece of a long sought after regional trail linking the San Francisco Bay Trail to the Bay Area Ridge Trail when it is built later this year.
By way of contrast, Wednesday’s paper carried Stanford University’s announcement of stopping work on the Page Mill/S1 Trail (“Campus halts work on trail”) due to a lawsuit filed by my new organization, the Committee for Green Foothills. This is an unfortunate and totally unnecessary action that denies the community access to a trail they have been owed for 5 years, ever since Stanford got approval to add 5 million square feet of new facilities.
Our lawsuit addresses only the northern trail known as the C1 trail, a project that was included at the last minute without considering alternative alignments, studying environmental impacts, or considering the public’s comment. Our lawsuit simply asks Santa Clara County and Stanford University to follow the environmental laws on this trail. We’re asking for them to exercise good governance.
Even better if Stanford would decide to be a good neighbor. The University has the opportunity to participate in creating a great regional trail system linking the popular dish trails up to the City’s Arastradero park, providing the needed link in the Bay-Ridge trail connection, but that isn’t the choice they’ve made. It is time to do the right thing, follow the law, and create real recreational trails that will benefit Stanford and its neighbors.
Holly Van Houten
Wednesday, June 28, 2006
Below is a short letter we sent in support of endorsement.
June 26, 2006
Re: Item 4.17 on City Council Agenda - support for Land Conservation Initiative Resolution
Dear Members of the
The Committee for Green Foothills and the other major conservation organizations in
Again, we urge you to support the Initiative, and we would be happy to answer any questions about it.
Brian A. Schmidt
Thursday, June 15, 2006
Our press release is here.
Palo Alto Weekly's coverage is here.
The Mercury News coverage is here.
We'll be sure to keep you updated.
Wednesday, June 14, 2006
On June 14th, Los Gatos-based Gabilan Ranch owners announced the sale of development rights to the Nature Conservancy for the "stunning" 11,190-acre ranch, located just south of the Santa Clara-San Benito boundary. In one of the largest land preservation arrangements ever to be completed in
While just outside of CGF’s area of work in
Monday, June 12, 2006
CGF sent the additional letter below, following up on many previous comments on the Coyote Valley fiscal analysis. We sure hope that it gets a thoughtful response by the city.
June 6, 2006
Re: Master Comment Letter on Draft Fiscal Analysis for
Dear Members of the CVSP Task Force:
Per the request by City staff for comments, the Committee for Green Foothills submits the following response that collect our previous concerns together, along with additional comments on the Draft Fiscal Analysis for
Additional comments follow:
Consultant and staff response so far to CGF criticisms: the most important CGF criticism of the Draft Analysis finds the Draft’s assumption that housing costs can escalate 3% above inflation annually for 60 years, when household income increases much more slowly (less than 1% according to 1990s data), to be fatally flawed. The Draft concludes that a fiscal surplus will occur only because of this massive increase in property tax revenues, but that extent of increase will not happen. Instead, we believe it is not possible for housing costs to increase much in relation to household income, and that the Report should be revised accordingly.
The City’s consultants had two responses so far: first, the 3% figure is a conservative match for increases over the last 30 years, so it is appropriate to use the same figure for the next 60 years; and second, while an ever-smaller percentage of families could afford to purchase homes over time, that smaller percentage could still push the market price ever higher.
We consider these responses to be inadequate. First, the past rate of price increases is irrelevant when encountering a new factor – in this case, the cost of housing increasing to more than 33% of median household income. We believe the past trend is unsustainable, and an unsustainable trend cannot be maintained forever. The Draft Report contains no analysis of whether that past trend can be sustained; it just assumes the trend can last.
Regarding whether a smaller percentage of potential buyers can maintain the constant real rate of increase in housing prices, it would be useful to view the incomes of people potentially interested in buying residences in Coyote as a normal distribution/bell curve, where the largest numbers of people have mid level incomes, while smaller numbers have high incomes or low incomes. See Figure A, attached, for illustrative purposes (y-axis is the number of people/buyers, x-axis is their income level (the numbers on the x-axis are arbitrary here)). The vertical line intersecting the apex of the curve could help delineate the current potential market of buyers.
The effect of increasing housing prices faster than income is to shift the vertical line further to the right, decreasing the number of potential buyers. And because the largest numbers of buyers in the bell curve are at the lowest income levels still to the right of the existing vertical line, moving that vertical line even slightly to the right will result in a disproportionately large reduction of buyers. Finally, the Draft Report implies a very large rightward shift in that vertical line to the right. All the above indicates a large decrease in the number of potential buyers given the Draft Report assumptions, but the Draft still concludes that prices will increase at the same rate as it did with a larger pool of buyers.
What the Committee for Green Foothills cannot do is quantify these numbers, but the City’s economic experts can. They should quantify how much the market will decrease given the relative changes in income and housing assumed in the Draft Report, and this would give a much better idea as to whether the housing prices can continue to climb at such an incremental rate.
Related housing price comments:
CVSP Task Force Member Craige Edgerton pointed out that Bay Area housing price increases don’t occur in a vacuum. When Craige moved to this area, housing cost twice as much as it did in
Craige also pointed out that even if the 3% figure is accurate, it could result in wrong projections if done at the height of a bull market. See Figure B, attached, as an example of how this could happen using an upward trending sine wave. The x-axis is time, and the y-axis is housing prices (absolute numbers on the axes are irrelevant for these purposes). The sine wave represents the up and down swings of the market, while the overall upward linear trend represents a gradual increase over time, which the City argues will average out to 3% or better. Craige’s point is that the 3% trend line could be drawn as tangent connecting the troughs of each curve, as a line bisecting the middle of all the curves, or as a tangent connecting the peaks of each curve. The most accurate starting point for extending the 3% trend line, in order to determine what future prices will be, would be from the middle. That does not appear to be what the Draft Report does, because the present position is much more likely to be at the peak, with an extended housing boom and what many are labeling a housing bubble in
At a City Council Study Session, Councilmember Forrest Williams and City consultants referred to the Draft Report as intended to be conservative. To assist this goal of making conservative assumptions, we suggest the following: Assume at the beginning of the project that housing prices will drop the same extent as the greater of the last two drops in housing prices, which we understand to have occurred in the early 1990s and 1980s. Further assume that prices will for the next few years increase no faster than the worse-performing of the two subsequent recoveries, and increases will stay low as long as the slowest recovery took. Finally, assume prices will then increase no faster than the rate of median household income increase for the projected duration of the project. The Committee assumed household income would increase 1% based on 1990s data, but that may be overoptimistic, and City consultants may have better long-term data. The Final Report could include the above as an Alternative Assumptions that could be use for fiscal projections for the various scenarios.
The underestimate of affordable housing resulted in an overestimate of revenue. Twenty percent of 26,660 housing units in Coyote (the last number we’ve heard) is 5,312, not 5,000. This means that in all scenarios, 312 units were inaccurately counted as market rate units generating substantial property tax revenues, instead of affordable units generating little or no tax revenue. This error should be corrected.
Initial sale prices of affordable for-sale housing cannot be increased at the 3% real rate between the present and whenever the housing is constructed. When this question was asked at a Task Force meeting, consultants misunderstood it as a question about control of resale prices. The real issue is what value and property tax revenues the Draft Report assigns to affordable for-sale housing constructed say, 20 years from now. If it takes current affordable housing prices, and projects those prices to increase at a 3% real rate for 20 years, then any pretense that these future homes will actually be affordable is thrown out the window. Instead, the housing prices should be calculate based on expected income levels at the time of construction.
As mentioned in our earlier comments and reiterated here, none of the five scenarios included the most environmental of the action scenarios that we have discussed in the last year – retain the current triggers, and add some form of phased 2:1 jobs:housing concurrence thereafter. This would keep the advantage the current triggers have of prioritizing in-City development first, while avoiding an “open floodgates” problem with current triggers – after 5,000 jobs arrive, housing development can far outpace jobs development. We recommend that this scenario be added to the Final Report.
Also as mentioned earlier, all the concurrency scenarios have a “cannibalism” problem that has not been addressed in the Draft Report or anywhere else. The 2:1 ratios create a potential incentive whereby Coyote developers will offer cut-rate prices to business to relocate there away from central
This letter incorporates and requests responses to previous oral and written comments from the Committee for Green Foothills, especially the April 24th and May 8th letters and attachments, and the Excel spreadsheet distributed at the last Technical Advisory Committee. If City staff have trouble locating these items, we can provide copies.
Finally, there is one idea that could fix ALL the criticisms we have of the Draft Report. Following up on an idea from the Sierra Club, the Final Report should explore making the Community Financial Districts a permanent means to make up the budgetary shortfalls from
Please contact us if you have any questions.
Brian A. Schmidt
 A partial fix of the cannibalism problem would be to use large concurrency increments – say after each 5,000 new jobs, 2,500 residences can be built. This would substantially reduce the incentive to relocate jobs from